In this interview with LEADERSHIP, Programme Manager, Bauchi State Agricultural Development Project (ADP), Alh. Ilyasu Gital Aliyu, highlights the achievements made in the agricultural sector by the current state government.

How has this government fared so far in terms of agriculture?
Well, so far so good, since the coming in of this government, as a member of the technical committee of the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme and as the head of policy implementation of agriculture in Bauchi state, I have been in the system for quite some time; and when we were inaugurated we immediately started working towards seeing that agriculture is given the desired attention as directed by his Excellency,governor Muhammad Abubakar.
We started doing that by going round all the local governments to sensitize, mobilize and then get some information because most of the activities that were carried out were top-down but this time we insisted that it should be bottom-up. By so doing, we went out, interviewed some of the farmers, their grievances, their concerns, what input they have to put into the way the federal and state governments want to improve agriculture. So having collected the information required we sat down as a committee we fixed a date to advice his Excellency which was done immediately because he was so passionate about taking agriculture to the next level.

Since it was implemented, the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme has been well received. Tell us some issues you experienced in its full implementation?
Unfortunately, for the first one year, this Anchor Borrowers’ Programme could not go through because the bankers failed us and so we had to go back to the drawing board because the bankers were not helping matters. We sat down again with the relevant organizations and individuals and came up with what we call Agriculture Entrepreneurship for Bauchi state which is currently going on because we felt if we rely on these commercial banks, their conditions and the way some will pull out at a certain stage will really affect the progress of the committee so we decided to do away with them. The state government went ahead to collect loan from the central bank directly for onward disbursement to the farmers through the Agricultural Entrepreneurship Programme.

How did you achieve this ?
From our findings, we discovered that the farmers needed some outfit for their input supply. That informed the decision of his Excellency to send a team to Morocco. I was part of the team that went to Morocco to actualize what the Moroccan government did with our Head of State in order to improve fertilizer supply in the country which culminated into the establishment of PEPSA. I think Bauchi state contingents were the first after the Head of State to go to Morocco to further discuss. We did not stop at only negotiating for fertilizers supplies in Bauchi State or in Nigeria as a whole, we also talked about the school lab, how are we going to determine the type of swerve or farmers will be operating on, we also talked about manpower development with Al Hassan (the 6th Polytechnic University) you know that will improve the extension services of the state by training our agents.

How did you come about the school lab programme? Give us an insight into its operation.
They were donated by the Moroccan government for the purpose of the school lab programme. This school lab programme is very important to the state as I said. You cannot boost agriculture without really finding ways and means of bringing in inputs where farmers will utilize. So the school lab programme is to ensure that all the fertilizers that we are talking about are applied as at when due and also in right quantity, we know the kind of soil we are operating on, so that’s what the school lab is all about. It is a vehicle that will move from farm to farm, take soil samples, analyze the samples there on see to, they will give the result of the soil analysis and even recommendation as to the kind of fertilizer you will apply, the kind of crop you are to plant on that very location.
As we speak, not only Bauchi, Gombe, Taraba, Adamawa, Plateau and other nearby states are procuring their fertilizer from the Bauchi Fertilizer Blending Company. Then we said okay for the fertilizer we have gone through, what about other equipments like agricultural equipments? We purchased tractors, power tillers, planters, harvesters, so many other things (we are going out with you to see them) for the purpose of giving them to farmers on loan and subsidized. We subsidized them at 40% subsidy. Depending on the cost of the material, some we have 5 years as repayment period, some only one year like the crop aspect of it you’re going to pay within one year while the tractors and other machineries you are to pay in 2, 3 to 5 years.

What concrete steps is the current government taking to ensure the state stays on top as regards fisheries?
Right now we are producing fingerlings here in ADP in Bauchi and we are training entrepreneurs in fingerlings production so that wherever you are, you can get fingerlings close to you. We decided to take people from all the Local Governments to develop their capacity in fingerlings production. Also the capacity of some farmers have been developed as to how to produce fish feeds apart from the ones that are being bought from companies because we want to reduce the cost of feeds as low as possible because the major problem is the cost of the feed.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how will you rate the achievement of this government so far in agriculture?
As far as agriculture is concerned, it is an A and A starts from 70. I will rate the government an A because farmers are so happy. I believe that when you go out you will interview the farmers and they will tell you that especially in this entrepreneurship programme workers are there, retired civil servants are there, ordinary farmers are there, and among the workers, what a Permanent Secretary will get is what a Messenger will get also as loan and the subsidy. So that’s why it is one of the best interventions in agriculture.
What has been your challenge and what do you suggest that the government both at the state and federal levels should do?
Fortunately as I said, major challenges were arising as a result of not taking the farmers along in formulating programmes for them. Now that we are taking the farmers along, in fact they are at the driver’s seat, I cannot say that there are no challenges, I started by saying when we started this Anchor Borrowers’ Programme banks said that they were going to help our farmers. We don’t have wealthy people because with the Anchor Borrower, you have to have uptakers that will sponsor the project. We don’t have them here, we relied only on banks. Some banks decided to fail us; most of them, almost all failed us except the apex bank (Central Bank). So this was one of our challenges. To overcome that challenge, we decided to do without involving the commercial banks but that will not be sustainable because agriculture cannot only be sustained by the state government and the central bank, definitely we have to bring in the commercial banks. But with the success of this programme, I am sure the commercial banks are going to queue in and the involvement of private anchors. This will really solve the problem as we saw it that time as we have started surmounting it.

How have you been able to tackle these challenges?
When we advised this present Governor we said we don’t have the machineries and equipment for agriculture in the state but when you bring them please let us give them to the farmers let them own it. Since we don’t have large scale farmers that will own it directly by purchasing, give subsidy and loan, and that’s exactly what he did. All the tractors and power tillers that have been purchased has been given to farmers on loan with subsidy.
This means that a farmer will own it, he will utilize it on his farm, and he will use it in getting money from other people’s farms. So generally, a farmer that is trying to make money with his tractor will not allow a tractor to be there for 2-3 years without going to farm to get money for it.